Shale gas protesters' bail hearings moving slowly

There's been little movement in a New Brunswick courthouse as bail hearings continue for six protesters who were arrested Thursday during a violent clash in Rexton with RCMP over land use

6 men arrested have remained in jail since violent clash with RCMP in Rexton on Thursday

There's been little movement in a New Brunswick courthouse as bail hearings continue for six protesters who were arrested Thursday during a violent clash in Rexton with RCMP over land used for shale gas exploration.

The men were arrested after a clash with police on Highway 134.

Three men had been set to appear in court on Tuesday, but not even the first bail hearing was completed.

Judge Camille Vautour heard evidence against protester Coady Stevens. None of the evidence can be repeated because of a publication ban, but Stevens faces charges including assault, uttering threats, forcible confinement and obstructing a peace officer.

That hearing is scheduled to continue on Wednesday, as well as hearings for two more men that had been slated for today: Jason Augustine and David Mazeroll. Bail hearings for the remaining three men — Germaine Breau, Aaron Francis and James Pictou — will get underway as soon as the first three are complete.

The six male protesters are still in jail out of concern they may be a flight risk or may get involved in a revival of the protest.

They face a total of 37 charges.

40 arrested

On Thursday, RCMP moved in on protesters who had been on Route 134 in Rexton since Sept. 30, preventing SWN Resources Canada from using the exploration vehicles and equipment it had in a compound in the area.

Forty protesters were arrested and the clash turned violent as five police vehicles were set on fire.

A camp was still set up there on Tuesday, with Route 134 down to one lane.

"We can see what's going on [from] here," protester Louis Jerome told CBC News. "In case the trucks, if they start working, we'll know where they are."

Protesters also set up a new site in Kent County today, on Highway 116 near Rogersville, not far from an area where SWN Resources was conducting seismic exploration earlier this summer.

Tensions have been running high over shale-gas exploration and potential development in New Brunswick for several years. Opponents fear the method of extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing could harm the groundwater supply.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the earth under high pressure to fracture shale rock and release the gas held within it.

Public inquiry sought

Meanwhile, the Green Party in New Brunswick called for a public inquiry into Thursday's events.

Leader David Coon said he has written to Ombudsman Charles Murray and asked that he initiate a public inquiry as soon as possible.

"Oct 17 was a dark day for New Brunswick," said Coon. "The only way to clear the air and get to the truth amid all of the accusations and innuendo is through a public inquiry.

"Violence by any party is never an acceptable way of resolving a dispute.  New Brunswickers need to know what happened and why," said Coon.

The call for a public inquiry was endorsed by a coalition of 28 groups opposed to shale gas development.

The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance said at its news conference in Moncton that there needs to be a public accounting of the RCMP's actions on Thursday.

Alliance spokesman Jim Emberger said the alliance supports the demands of aboriginal people to have their treaties respected, and said the Alward government is partly to blame for the situation by failing to engage aboriginal people or the general public on the issue.

Emberger said the alliance is willing to soften its demand for an outright ban on shale gas exploration and agree to a moratorium. But he said the alliance is continuing with fund-raising efforts to come up with $100,000 to obtain a court injunction against further exploration.


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